Archive for the ‘privilege’ Category

​Mali is in the midst of a social media blackout. In sending this out we’ll see how far that goes. 

Starting Wednesday night, the Malian government cut access within Mali to at least Facebook and Twitter after the arrest of a Malian radio show host sparked protests that turned violent. And access remains cut off today.

This radio host, who has been vocally critical of the current Malian government, used social media himself to rally his supporters against his arrest. As a result, Mali has cut off access to Facebook and Twitter at the very least. It’s not clear which, if other sites have been blocked at the moment. 

The two major internet providers in Mali, Orange and Malitel, have not made any announcements regarding the cut. This is not much of a surprise, however, as both companies have been prone to service problems and customer negligence for as long as they have been around. 
As social media blackouts have become commonplace in countries experiencing discord, it only highlights the importance of spreading information, and the internet as the ultimate tool for doing so. 

From African elections to the Arab Spring, governments are putting internet access higher and higher on the list of important resources to play with in order to manipulate the population. The same can even be seen in the American debate over “net neutrality.”

Thankfully at this point in the evolution of the internet, communication and information access have not yet been synchronized or streamlined enough to kill everything by switching off one app or website. Though it’s usually seen as a problem that we need several passwords to access our several online accounts, I for one am happy for the scattered nature of the internet. 

I fear the day all of our venues for information sharing come from the same website and everything can be controlled from one app. Everything is clearly moving in that direction, as internet streamlining is always in high demand. But until that day comes, I will enjoy this Wild Wild West-style internet because the truth still has a chance to slip through the cracks, for now.

So this is a test. This blog gets forwarded to a Twitter account and from there on to Facebook. Let’s see how far this gets. 
Onward and upward, people.

Z
Mali is the latest African country to impose a social media blackout

Bon soir internet!

So it’s been six (almost seven!) months since I packed up and moved across the world into the heart of darkness and so far it’s literally been sunny every day. During the rainy season it can be gray for a while and sometimes the dust paints everything beige but the sun always comes out eventually. Why do I feel like there’s a message in there somewhere?

Mali has been surreal. I still can’t believe I’m here, or that I’m starting to understand French, or that I’m finding my own work, or that my niece is a year! (WTF?!?!) The river of life really has some massive bends. Learning a new language is coming along great, or well enough at least for me to understand the basics of most of the everyday French conversations I find myself around. I’ve even started picking up some Bambara! Doni doni. All it takes is a little focus really. I used to be apprehensive about learning new languages but now I think it has finally turned from frightening to fun. It has definitely been challenging but I am doing my best to embrace the privilege of learning. Teaching is one Hell of a learning experience, go figure. English is in high demand in this francophone country, and a native speaker definitely helps meet that. In fact the demand is so high I’ve now had to turn down clients in order to have adequate time to prepare for the students I already have. And aside from working with government and non-governmental organizations galore, teaching preschoolers has been (and remains) especially humbling. Between teaching preschoolers, government employees, and locals to other teachers and their children, I am getting quite the crash course in teaching students of all ages, levels and backgrounds. It makes me wonder what else I can do that I may have never considered before.

Come to think of it, this whole adventure has been one Hell of a learning experience. Every day I drive down the road and wonder what else someone will somehow be carrying on a scooter, or “moto” as they’re called in Bamako. Goat, dresser, art, family, you name it. I’m surprised I haven’t seen someone carrying another moto on one of those things yet (although I have seen someone on the back of one dragging a bicycle behind them, and a moto on top of a car). Malians are impressive. They really work their asses off. Everyone I’ve met and seen seems to be doing everything they can to make as much money as possible. Considering how hot it gets here alone I’m inspired! Their efforts can be misguided sometimes, like the children selling water and really any portable thing you can think of on the street corners and roadsides from infancy instead of going to school. But the people here really look like they do their best to get ahead, even if it takes years of backbreaking work. Bamako is filled with strong people. I’m glad to be able to help in what few ways I can. Petit a petit I suppose. There are a tragic number of people simply begging as well, though those seem to mostly be men and boys. Malian women are especially impressive. I have yet to see a Malian woman just relaxing. Men on the other hand, like most men I know (myself included) seem to take every chance they get.

I’m learning a lot about Africa in general talking to all my local and professional students. African people and the African spirit amaze me more and more every day. Check out these few examples real fast and tell me you’re not impressed.

http://www.myafricanow.com/a-house-made-of-plastic-bottles-nigeria/

Isn’t that all awesome? I’m learning so much from all the people here. Not to mention that I live with an investment banker with a bleeding heart. Six months with my father has been eye-opening to say the least. I’m extremely grateful to have been given the privilege of a lot of his insight on poverty, corruption, bureaucracies, development, organizational finance and management, etc. So much so that I’ve even considered taking a couple years in the future to go for an MBA. It doesn’t look as dry/confusing/useless as it has in the past. I might be able to see myself buckling down and learning the inner workings of the capitalist process, if only to learn exactly what we’re all up against. That is of course If I could somehow manage to get my hands on one of these mysterious “scholarships” everyone keeps talking about. From my experience though they seem only to exist in fairy tales…

Speaking of fairy tales – the war in the North has turned a corner now that suspected militants have attacked civilians in Bamako, the capital. Last week a popular bar was the stage for an attack of some sort using machine guns and grenades, which I believe marks the first attack of that kind within the Bamako city limits in years. Word on the street is they were looking for caucasians and though two were caught, the organization that claimed responsibility is currently still out there so Dad and I are… honestly not changing our behavior very much. We stay in a lot anyway but I guess now we will buy a few more munchies at the supermarket. Like pops said, he doesn’t get danger pay for nothing. The world is a real place and rocks hurt so you’ve got to be ready for it no matter where you live.

Six months in and I must say I am actually fairly impressed with myself. Every day I work on something personal besides my job, and after six months I’m starting to build up some nice new habits to be slave to. Though that’s not to say I’m not also impressed by my ability to make enough money to actually contribute to gas and groceries. No such thing as a free lunch. I’ve begun meditating and exercising semi-regularly and I can already feel the difference. Little by little much gets done. As much as I love to sit around and do nothing I’ve already made a bit of a name for myself in the city as a solid English teacher and tutor, even building up referrals from clients for more work. Plus I’ve learned a fair amount of one new language and have begun to understand the basics of another. I’ve learned and am learning firsthand about our global system of international development from someone who has basically the same thoughts I do on the matter, only way more developed. Not to mention I’ve reached a new level in my grasp of international politics and news, including keeping up with the political and legislative landscape within the States, which really makes me feel like a grown up haha.

It’s especially exciting to look back home and see the cascade of drug law reform legislation that I sacrificed many good grades in college trying to build a culture for starting to pick up speed. A tear comes to my eye just thinking that as I write this cannabis has been legalized in Washington D.C., the place where five or six years ago people were laughing at me for suggesting it could actually change within our lifetimes. “You’re wasting your time,” “get a real cause,” “worry about something you can change,” I heard (when it wasn’t just laughter) for four long years while peoples’ lives were thrown away into prisons and caskets for feeding an addiction or starting the wrong kind of entrepreneurial enterprise or just struggling to eat something after chemotherapy. It’s just so satisfying to hear silence where there once was doubt.

So much amazing work is being done all around the world that I am inspired to get to work on my own contributions as fast and as hard as possible. By my birthday I want to have all my poetry (which looks like about 60 pieces) in one place so I can finally arrange it all and maybe even have enough good ones for a collection. After that I’ll be able to get back to the novel I’m working on and a possible collection of short stories. One day my musical equipment will arrive and I will jump back into the music game. Until then I’m also teaching myself how to… well… teach!

Speaking of my birthday, it looks like my birthday this year is on Easter, which is cool I guess. More importantly it’s on a Sunday! That means no work on my birthday which is all I really want. I’ll still spend the day working, just not at my job. It will be into the hot season by April so I’m really just gonna try to survive. It won’t be the hottest yet but I imagine it’ll be like “the wall” at Philmont. The wall is a few miles of gnarly switchbacks up the side of a mountain. “How do we know when we’ve reached the wall?” “Once you feel like you can’t go any further, then you’ve reached the wall.” It’s okay though. I’ve forgotten the pain. The view at the top however, I’ll never forget.

Onward and upward,
Z

Bonjour mes amis!

First I’ll apologize. It’s been a couple weeks since my last post. I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me. If not, reading this will be tough.

It’s December in Bamako so you know what that means. The pool… is a tad nippy… at night. People here have broken out their scarves, coats, and hats. Meanwhile I’m still in sleeveless T’s and shorts. As far as I’m concerned I’m sweating a little less, which is honestly a relief. Despite the lack of snow though I can still feel the tug of the holiday season. The Holidaze have us!

This will be my first Christmas in Bamako, my second in Africa that I actually remember. Besides the one or two I may have had in Conakry when I was still in diapers, my first Christmas in Africa was in the lovely Gorum Gorum, Burkina Faso when I was 12 if I remember correctly. My mother took my brother, my sister and me to Burkina for a few weeks, during which we took a trip out to Gorum Gorum, a small village on the edge of the Sahara. Christmas morning we woke up in Gorum Gorum and began our three – hour camel ride into the Sahara. I love camels, but after that I’m not sure I’ll ever ride one again if it’s not absolutely necessary. And i didn’t even have a guide stuck on the back of mine. I would say it was like fucking a two-by-four for three hours but that would be a lie. It wasn’t like fucking a two-by-four for three hours, it was fucking a two-by-four for three hours. You’re literally sitting on a wooden chair with a wooden board-for-a back and another board sticking up the same height in the front. And you can’t lean back. It was fun but I threw up immediately afterwards and am probably sterile. Though that may have been the orange soda i drank immediately after returning to the ground… Either way, thank God (ain’t nobody got time for none of that noise).

Last week I helped out at an annual community Christmas event at le Parc National (the national park). They call it “Santa.” It’s a Christmas market and showcase that blends the Christmas holiday with the traditional craftsmenship of Mali. It’s funny because most people don’t even know what “Santa” means; they just know it means Christmas. Some artisans showed off clothing, some metalwork, some homemade Christmas ornaments and some snakeskin belts and crocodile briefcases. It was definitely a sight to behold. Some German friends sell sausages and sourkraut (sp?) every year and asked if I could help out. I left the restaurant industry to come to Africa and teach and low and behold, I end up right back on the grill. Sure we can sub out the sausages for a kebab. No, we do not serve drinks. It was nice to help out in the community. Not only do I get to feel like I’m actually contributing to the welfare of the city but I get to practice my French! The shopping was awesome too, which is of course a plus. It’s interesting how many people and businesses here recognize or even know of Christmas. I get the sense that the relative percentage of people in the States who recognize or try to cater to followers of Islamic or Jewish holidays (for example) is a lot less. It’s just surprising how open people are to cultural practices that aren’t their own, if only to exploit for a buck. Many of those I grew up with could learn something.

Kari just flew in from London, so the next couple weeks should be full of good food and fun times around town. We went bowling at Byblos, one of the nightclubs on Bamako’s main strip. It’s a nightclub/restaurant/bowling alley that has quickly become one of my new favorite places. We’ve also been to Apellussa (sp?) The best Tex-Mex restaurant in town, which was pretty legit. The Canadian flag on the wall threw me off at first but I like it.

Anyway I hope everyone who celebrates has a great Christmas. For those who celebrate Chanukkah, I hope that was awesome too, along with all the other holidays that take place during this arbitrarily designated time of year.

However Happy New Year to all!!! We made it one more rotation around the Sun without being consumed by its lava tornados. I’d say that’s as good a reason as any to have an extra glass.

Cheers. May your future plans put your wildest dreams to shame.

Onward and upward,

-Z

Hello, hello, my internet fellows!

Apologies for the short delay. This has been an eventful week for me to say the least, which I will.

There are larger issues at play this week than my shenanigans. As most of you may already know, Mali had a big spot in the news this week. As of this week Mali is officially the newest country to have reported a case of Ebola. A two year old girl was diagnosed with the disease after entering the country through Guinea with some family who have since been quarantined. She has since passed. Unfortunately at least one of the girl’s parents had already died from the virus when she left Guinea, which shares it’s largest border with Mali. The girl was noted to have had a nosebleed for the duration of their bus ride, which stopped in multiple cities along its route. No other travelers have been found with symptoms so far, but the government is still trying to track down everyone who she may have come into contact with along her trip to be sure. The Guinean-Malian border is fairly open, which is a large concern for Malians, but thankfully Ebola isn’t the most contagious of diseases.

According to the World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Ebola, the Ebola Virus Disease is only contagious when people are showing symptoms of sickness. Symptoms begin 2 to 21 days after contracting the virus. Transmission happens through direct contact with the fluids of someone exhibiting symptoms. According to the WHO, “first symptoms are the sudden onset of fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools). Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.” In early stages transmission through fluids could mean the sweat of someone fevering, however generally it is not easily transmissible unless fluids come into contact with “broken skin or mucous membranes,” like armpits or tear ducts, though hang nails and small cuts on the hands are something to watch out for and maintain. So shaking an infected person’s sweaty hand does not automatically condemn you; it is still a good idea, and definitely worth it to wash your hands if you think you might have.

The major issue with how this outbreak has been handled is brought to light in Mali’s particular situation. Most people who have been paying attention to the outbreak know not to touch people who are showing severe symptoms like bleeding from the eyes or vomiting in the street, but one question of real importance seems to be consistently overlooked; what counts as the beginning? Unfortunately the truth of the matter is that even the first signs of sweat from someone feeling feverish, or the saliva from a cough could contain traces of Ebola. This is why the virus is confused with one that could be transmissible through the air. The Ebola virus cannot be transmitted through the air, but it can be transmitted through droplets of mucus or saliva traveling through the air, making a bus ride with an infected person potentially dangerous if they are coughing or sneezing into the open. This method of transmission has only been found between pigs and monkeys so far, and in experimental conditions however, so needless to say it is not the easiest route for the disease to take. So the verdict stands; carriers are infections from the moment they begin excreting fluids as a result of the virus. This issue poses an unfortunate and controversial problem for people when you throw another element into the mix: children.

We want to comfort and take care of our children when they are sick, but in cases where Ebola may be the reality of the situation, such care may have to be given from a distance. No one wants to think about, let alone discuss the possibility of separating oneself from their sick child. Most parents are commendably committed to staying as close as possible to make themselves available for whatever reason their child may need them, but with Ebola, children create a special highway on which to travel. This, the first and only reported case in Mali so far, as well as Patient Zero in Guinea were children. However in Senegal, one and only one case was reported because their Patient Zero was a 21 year old man whom did not spend his time in the constant care of others. Unfortunately this is such a barbaric virus that it turns our compassion into our fatal undoing.

Mali, as well as the rest of the world, might need to start clarifying a bit more about how Ebola can be transmitted outside of the health centers. Unfortunately Mali also has to deal with the issue of ensuring procedure is correctly followed within those centers, but thankfully Mali’s health services in major cities are generally pretty competent. Once confirming this case was in fact Ebola there was swift action taken to track down and disinfect the bus, as well as find any who may have made contact with the child. It is the culture of the populous that concerns me most at the moment. Health officials have suspected the virus existed in Mali for some time, but the overwhelming desire to hide infection and simply ride it out at home poses some of the greatest risks for transmission. Cases can’t be reported when people don’t come forward. That being said, Mali needs to get it’s story straight and try to send out a more consistent set of information to its citizens. They’ve been giving it a good effort; I’ve seen the PSA’s on TV. The dissemination of information here needs to be wider-reaching and more comprehensive though, especially if they really want to cut this virus off in its path and hope to contain it along the towns and villages bordering Guinea.

In addition, not much information has been circulating concerning post-recovery procedures for those who are lucky enough to survive infection. Once again, as the WHO has so eloquently put it, “People remain infectious as long as their blood and body fluids, including semen and breast milk, contain the virus. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.” Bummer, man.

At the end of the day, what can the average person do? The answer is obvious and not isolated to this Ebola outbreak. Wash your hands whenever you get a chance. Cover your mouth when you sneeze and don’t touch other peoples’ dirty clothes, especially if they’ve been BLEEDING FROM THEIR EYES. No, but seriously. If you do find yourself in a vulnerable position in relation to this outbreak, practicing basic, common-sense hygiene may be your best defence against contracting the virus. If not, wash your hands anyway. Remember, even soap is a privilege many do not enjoy.

I hope this clarified some things. Until next time, be safe people. Onward and upward.

-Z

Bon après midi gens du monde!  Good afternoon people of the world!

Well, here it is.  Tonight marks another sunset on one more beautiful week in Bamako.  This week ended up being pretty productive, so as it comes to an end I have to say it went to good use.

First off, my stepmother-dearest, Kari was here visiting this week.  We had a good time checking out a few restaurants around town.  A few Dad and I had been to, but many we hadn’t.  So When Kari got here we showed her the spots we found and liked so far, but we were soon out of new places to go.  We discovered a few spots that were honestly pretty impressive, like Savana, the big American/European spot complete with a thatched roof and zebra-skin chairs.  It was a warm restaurant that looked like it could easily get pretty hot if the band got going.  Apparently there is a Greek place out there somewhere with the highest reviews around.  Even though I could easily go never smelling Ouzo again, I do love me some feta.  I’ll let you know if it lives up to its name.

With Kari’s help we got a few trinkets for the house, like a new lamp for the den and some curtains.  We also unpacked our books onto the bookshelf and fixed two of the air conditioners.  Having all the books out, in the open, in one place makes it way easier to just read a little of each of the books I’m constantly reading, which is nice.  Maybe one day I’ll finish one.  No, just kidding.  I actually finished Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is great.  Though now I have a stronger distaste for Tom Sawyer and his unnecessary theatricality.  The car was brought into the shop to have its A/C fixed on Saturday.  The whole ordeal was originally expected to be a few hours, but it ended up taking seven or eight.  The best part is that now that we got it back, the A/C works a little worse in the front, won’t turn off or turn down in the back, and the “Check Engine” light is on. … Three steps forward and two steps back, as they say.  It’s a process.  The A/C repairman also made a visit this week to fix the unit in Dad’s room.  Once again it was my man in the bright blue suit, who determined the cause of the malfunction was simply that the unit had never been cleaned since he himself installed it almost five years ago.  So he did his usual cleaning of the filters and syphoning of the tubes WITH HIS MOUTH, and whatever dead salamanders were clogging up the thing were taken care of real fast.  If anyone deserves to be paid more, it’s that guy.  Little by little this place is starting not to look or feel quite like Alcatraz anymore.  It’s all very exciting.

This week I got some solid writing done.  I put some good hours in on a story I’m working on, and a book of poetry I have been comprising for about five years now.  Next week I think I’ll focus a little more on music and see if I can get some beats and tunes saved for later.  So many projects, so little time!  Who knows, maybe one day one of my many projects will be complete enough to show off.  I could tell you what they were about now, but… I’d have to kill you.  And I like y’all.

Oddly enough, I also happened to be a guest on a TV show this week!  Once a year AfriCable, an international African television station hosts a karaoke competition called King Karaoke.  They pick twenty contestants out of 150 or so original applicants to compete for and be crowned the karaoke king (or queen) of Africa!  A producer from the show hangs out at the same hotel Dad and I have been going to Thursday nights for karaoke, and wanted me on after she heard these glorious pipes.  What can I say.  Technically contestants need two songs to compete, one of which needs to be a traditional Bambara song.  Since I only just moved here and know neither French nor Bambara (yet), they asked if I would sing a song for their premier episode, which recorded on Thursday and aired on Sunday.  I was originally asked to sing No Woman, No Cry, but a group of contestants decided on that as one of theirs so instead I went with my backup, Come Together.  The best part of the whole experience came right after they called me on stage though.  As I was waiting for they system to reboot so my song could start playing, the host asked me to sing something a cappella to kill time.  I agreed and decided on a bit of Three Little Birds to stick with the original Bob Marley theme, which the crowd liked at least enough to join in and start clapping along.  They only televised a short clip from Come Together, but at least those at the recording got a more of a show.  That was a blast, haha.  If I can find a clip online I’ll post it here for you all to enjoy.

On a more serious and useful note, this week I also finalized plans with Dad to volunteer some time at his office teaching his staff English.  The next step is to meet with him and his assistant at the same time so they can begin making sure all the right channels are aware.  Ideally though, pretty soon I should start holding classes at noon on Tuesdays (for beginners) and Thursdays (for intermediate/advanced).  I’m very excited about the possibility.  Hopefully I can help the overall team improve its English, and build a network of references in the meantime.  Time will tell at this point.  Fingers crossed.

I suppose that’s all for now folks.  I’m off to go watch some AfriCable.  If I fall asleep with it on, it’s like learning French through osmosis, right?

Onward and upward,

-Z

Bonjour!

This has been a fun week in Bamako!  This weekend has been especially fun.  Hows about I tell you a little about it, eh?

I got the opportunity to check out a little of the city’s club scene this week, and to be honest I am impressed.  Friday night I got invited out by some new friends of mine from my French class, and I had a blast!  We started off at Le Terrasse for a couple hours, a popular rooftop bar and lounge.  This particular bar is on the top floor of a building, above a separate nightclub.  I had been there once before, but this time they surprised us with a live band!  They weren’t too bad either.  Pharrell and Bob Marley made for some great covers.  La Terrasse looks like it came straight out of the caravansary of the Silk Road.  The place is simple and elegant.  The bar area is underneath a metal roof but extends out onto a balcony overlooking the street.  There, the roof gives way to a tent-like arrangement held up by long wooden poles.  The actual terrace is littered with handmade wooden couches and chairs.  Their red cushions perfectly match the intricate, embroidered, red canvas hanging overhead.  I half-expected someone to come read me my fortune or sell me their precious jewels.  Instead I was surrounded by beautiful, smiling people all enjoying the precious freedom of the weekend.  One of the bartenders was even surprised with a cake for her birthday!  Luckily, since by this time we had moved from the couches on the terrace to the stools at the bar, I got to have a piece.  Sweet.  😉

After pounding back a few Flag beers with my new buddies, we made our way to Ibiza, one of Bamako’s most popular nightclubs.  Now these guys know what they’re doing.  This Lebanese-owned nightclub is everything a club should be.  It is dull and boring on the outside and a grand ol’ tropical paradise on the inside.  Well, not exactly a tropical paradise but there were definitely plenty of neon, blacklight-reactive, tropical murals painted straight onto the walls, not to mention easily the biggest disco ball I have ever seen.  The whole place was a lot bigger than I expected too.  We went past the dance floor and first bar, up and around the back section of private couches and tables, and back down to the other side of the dance floor and second bar.  Just being in the place made me feel fancier.  Of course, it’s not too difficult to feel underdressed wearing a Rob Zombie T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off.  Once I had gotten a good feel for how extensive the layout of the club actually was, I made my way onto the dance floor with the group and danced the night away.  It helped that the resident DJ was actually pretty impressive.  Contrary to popular belief, DJ’ing is not as simple as hooking up your playlist, turning up the bass, and cracking a beer.  A good DJ not only mixes old songs with new sounds to give them a fresh feel while preserving the classic vibes of the original, but s/he also knows how to string those songs together into one smooth, continual beat.  Classical composers used this technique, where though their pieces changed sounds completely from start to finish, the evolution of the changes were flawlessly woven together, creating one giant evolving piece as opposed to a bunch of separate songs.  Our DJ Friday night impressively mixed popular American and traditional African songs with that heavy bass I love, so I was pretty much in Heaven.  Luckily our group evened out to three guys and three ladies so we all had an easily accessible dance partner without having to sift through strangers.  Mine may not have spoken any English, but man could she dance!  If there’s one thing I learned studying English, it’s that words are only one type of language.  Dancing is a language all its own.  The best part about Ibiza: I didn’t spend a dime.  Not only was there no cover, which surprised me, but with the slight buzz I had worked up at Le Terrasse I skipped the bar entirely and spent all my time on the dance floor.  By 4am we were all ready to go so I stumbled my way into a taxi and hoped for the best.  “Derrier de la Citie Ministerial!  Por favor!  Shit, I mean, s’il vous plait!!”  All in all Friday night was a great time.  Those Europeans start things off late (we met up at 11:30pm!) but they sure know how to party.  Even after grandkids.

I went on a beautiful hike on Saturday beside the Presidential Palace.  It was on a mountainside, like most of the others.  This one overlooked a stadium and what looked like an Olympic-sized pool.  The sun was especially brutal as I climbed this particular rock, but I loved it.  There’s nothing like the feeling of a nice, solid sweat.  This time I met a great Bavarian gentleman whom I had a long conversation with about corruption and its various faces throughout various countries and regions of the world.  Up until this point I have had a blast hiking with this French group of Hash House Harriers.  These weekly hikes have done wonders for my constant mental entanglement, as hiking has always done for me.  However I hear there is another group of Hashers in Bamako, apparently organized by our friends the Brits!  I hear this group only organizes hikes on a monthly basis, but that’s probably for the best since two hikes every week might start to squeeze my schedule a bit.  Next week they are organizing their hike though, so I look forward to a hot, sweaty, dirty weekend climbing around on rocks and through tall grass.  I may even try to drag Dad and Kari (my stepmom, visiting for ten days) out to get them working their legs a little as well.  Misery loves company, after all.

This week my father, stepmother, and I were also invited by one of my father’s top colleagues in Mali for a home-cooked lunch at his beautiful home.  And boy do I mean beautiful.  Gorgeous, gold, paisley-esque, regal couches and traditional African art made for the perfect background to the wonderful household and family we had the pleasure to meet.  Aside from the wonderful culinary art coming from the mother of the house, my father’s colleague, the father, melted my heart just sitting there with his three beautiful, crazy little daughters as they ran around assaulting each other and climbing all over him.  It was both hilarious and adorable.  Seeing a man be a father is a special kind of beautiful.  Back to that cooking though… when I say they invited us over for a meal, I’m afraid I may have made a bit of an understatement.  This was no meal.  It was a royal feast of which we were not nearly worthy.  There was fresh salad, roasted chicken, crepes stuffed with ground beef and veggies, fried plantains, homemade french fries, and of course beef in peanut sauce over rice.  Chunks of seedless watermelon and a homemade Senegalese millet pudding followed for dessert.  To drink we had water and two traditional Malian juices, one made from ginger and one from what looks like a cousin of the hibiscus plant.  Combined these two juices are pretty much the bees knees.  The whole meal had me stuffed to the max, dreading my impending hike, which I was committed to attending directly afterward.  Most of the lunch was dominated by talk of Malaria and family planning in Mali.  After all, the whole organization my father has come to Mali to run is starting to understand just how valuable of a resource he is, having worked in international health and finance for the past thirty years.  Though of course, in his usual manner, once the food came out my father so eloquently and simply exclaimed, “oh yeah, really, I’m just here [in Mali] for the peanut sauce.”  It is great to see my dad happy with his work.  Even though every day brings him close to a violent rage, the work he’s doing now is meaningful and inspirational to everyone he works with, and his honest love for Africa is undeniable.  He is ecstatic to be here and I am honored to be along for the ride.  Who knows, maybe through all of this a simple English major from Maryland might end up an international finance guru.  (I believe the expression is, ‘LOL?’)  No, I doubt I will follow in my father’s footsteps down the finance route, but I can’t deny that even the talks we have already had on the intricacies of his world have taught me a great deal about practical international development, which I have always had a theoretical passion for.  It’s a big world out there and there is too much to possibly do alone.

We also got a new lamp, and noodles for the pool.  It’s on now.

Okay, that’s enough for the time being I suppose.  I hope you enjoyed my ramblings!  We’ll see what I get into this week.  As for you, may your future plans put your wildest dreams to shame!

Onward and upward,

– Z

P.s. Here’s a nasty remix of a classic Weezy song, because it’s awesome and I heard it again in the shower today.  Yee-haw!!

P

So a couple weeks ago I wrote about awareness.  I focused primarily on situational, or external awareness, as it were.  This week I am going to continue a thought on awareness, however this time I am going to turn my focus inward, to internal or personal awareness.  As always I would love to hear your thoughts.  Let’s see where this takes us…

Who are you?  What do you want?  Where are you headed?  Where do you come from?  How about your friends, siblings, parents, or your parents’ parents?  The human mind attributes meaning to patterns.  Those patterns we recognize as significant color the lens each of us uses to see the world around us.  We categorize and label everything we see into one set or another in order to comprehend the innumerable amount of stimuli we come across, and of course as with everything, this begins with ourselves.

I am Zach.  At least, “Zach,” is the particular symbol I choose at the moment to represent the idea I have in my head of myself.  This means I have spent at least some dime differentiating what I perceive and interact with from whatever generates this voice that ponders these weird-ass questions and have reached the conclusion that there is, in fact, a difference.  Exactly where the line is drawn is up for debate, but I have decided that there is a me that is different from you or that and my name is Zach.  Welcome, by the way.

Once I created that folder, I immediately filled it with all sorts of wonderful people, stories, and places that resonated with my frequency in order to figure and formulate my perceptions.  My memories and my perceptions of course now bounce around together constantly, lubricating my imagination and birthing my dreams.

So that’s me on a skeletal level, and it is important to understand yourself in relation to yourself.  However, it is another task entirely to consider yourself in relation to those around you.  After all, it’s the meat that makes the real differences between us.  There are numerous factors we commonly use to categorize ourselves in relation to each other: gender, race, religion, nationality, spoken language, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status to name a few.  If we have any hope of working with each other then it is not only important for us to understand ourselves in our terms, but to do so in relation to the people with whom we interact.  This brings me to Bamako.

I am a Caucasion-American male living in a big, (appropriately) white, walled-in house in Bamako, a city where reproductive rights barely exist and no one picks the trash up off the streets.  I live with my father, who spends cocktail hour at the embassy with ambassadors, WHO executives and the like.  As for my position in relation to the people of this city, it is safe to say that I am quite privileged.  My father alone employs several local men for what seems like nothing to me but is actually closer to twice the average pay for such positions.  Not only do I have a woodgrain toilet seat, but I have a toilet.  Not only do I have a gate and a wall, but I have a house with air-conditioning and refrigerated food worth taking at all.  I can’t avoid how well-off I am, and denying it would offer no service to anyone, but I can use what I’ve got to ease the lives of those who don’t have as much.

There are many ways to use one’s resources for good, but the first step is to try and understand just how much you do have in comparison to just how little is available to others.  Every morning I get to wake up in a bed, inside, and take an anti-malarial pill that (hopefully) keeps each of these mosquito bites from becoming more than that.  Once I’ve taken my magic pill I get to eat a hot meal cooked with clean, bottled water.  In addition, if I were to walk down the street at night, I would be targeted by thieves due to my skin color, but left alone by sexual predators due to my gender.  Meanwhile, others all around the globe have so little that clean water is a myth and disease is a way of life.  No one person can totally solve any problem really worth solving, but if we can all get in where we fit in then together progress can be made.

As far as I am concerned this means it is up to me to pay attention to those less fortunate than myself and actually learn their stories.  All any of us can ever do is work from where we are, with what we’ve got, for what we want.  Not only am I a sucker for a good story, but I have always had an fairly good memory when it comes to the recitation of stories.  So what do I want?  Stories.  Everyone deserves to have their voice heard.

This is the reason I want to teach English to those who are interested.  This is also the reason that I plan to learn both French and Bambara, the local language.  Language defines our capacity to communicate, and communication is the key to teamwork.  I went to the market earlier in the week with Edmond, our chef, and Mahamadou, our driver so Edmond could pick up some food for the week.  It was an amazing experience and I plan to go with them again often when I can.  First we went to the supermarket so I could make a booze run and Edmond could pick up a few items there.  For the real food, however, like all our meats and fresh vegetables, Edmond needed to shop around some in the street marketplace.  The market we went to was a crowded intersection with small, one-room shops lining either side of each road.  Because this was my first time and I still did not know much French or any Bambara, I waited with Mahamadou at one of his friend’s paint shop on one of the corners.  With the SUV parked right there on the street in front of an ocean of mopeds we sat, relaxed, and people-watched with some friends of his for an hour or so.  The language barrier kept any conversation involving me fairly basic, but their fascination with my tattoos sparked a lesson on colors in Bambara.  Those guys were a warm, welcoming bunch with big smiles on their faces.  Even though I have access to many more resource than these guys,  they still offered me a seat with them and lit up my day with their smiling faces.  I hope to see them all again soon.  The unfortunate truth in most situations is that those in positions of privilege hardly mingle with those around them.  Instead, often times people use what money they have to do just the opposite and separate themselves from those with less.  Having worked in the service industry myself for some time I know what it is to be ignored by those who think themselves better than me, so as I learn more about the languages here I plan to learn as much as I can about everyone I meet here.  It’s sad how unusual this mindset may turn out to be.

Life is hard for everyone, but we can each do a little to ease the suffering of those around us by simply listening to what they have to say and caring about their well-being.  For now, for me, that means my job is to immerse myself with French lessons, French newspapers, French movies, and French-speakers until I can confidently begin to relay the endless stories I learn here back to you, the fine people of the internet.  Even before then, however, even a smile and a wave can completely change someone’s day.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now.  Time for me to get some sleep so I’m useful again.  Thanks for reading, and of course feel free to tell me your comments, questions and concerns.  If you’ve got a couple more minutes, attached is a fantastic poem about who we are.  I hope you enjoy.  Have a fantastic week everyone.  Au revoir!

Onward and upward,

-Z